Friday, December 8, 2017

Final Down Under Days

We woke to a rainy forecast on Wednesday, which was unwelcome since we planned to visit Bondi Beach. However, as we sat eating breakfast at White Carrots (a cafe in our neighborhood), we noticed that the skies were blue. We decided to go for it! 

We took the bus to Bondi Beach, found some beach towels and sunscreen at a beachside shop, and crossed the street to the popular beach. I’ve never seen waves so tall - at least six feet! 

The water was a stunning blue and the surf dotted with surfers. Camryn and I got into the water, but my stay was short because of the very strong undertow. Eventually lifeguards drove up the beach urging folks to get out of the water.   

After getting a bit of a sunburn, we ate lunch at an Italian sidewalk cafe. While eating the rain finally arrived. Thankfully the tables were covered with a plastic canopy so our meal wasn’t ruined. 

We ended our time at Bondi by visiting the Iceberg Pools, set as close to oceanside as they can get. Children from the area were having swim lessons and swim team practice there - wow, what a place to regularly swim!

On Thursday, our last day together in Sydney, we decided to enjoy a relaxed day shopping for Christmas gifts and souvenirs. After another amazing breakfast at yet another neighborhood cafe (the Rusty Rabbit, our favorite), we went by train to the Queen Victoria Building, a stunning historical building that has been converted into shops and dining. Though a lot of shops were above our price point, we enjoyed looking. It also had wonderful toy shops!

We found a ramen noodle restaurant for a pick-me-up midday before a bit more shopping. Then we headed to Circular Quay to meet our friends from Ransomed Heart for dinner. We ate at a delicious but very noisy German restaurant before walking to the opera house. At night they have a seven minute light projection onto the side of the iconic landmark. 

After some gelato and a train ride home, I somehow managed to pack all of my things - including my purchases - into the same bags I brought over!

This morning, after a final breakfast at the Rusty Rabbit, Leslie and Camryn helped me navigate the train to the international airport station. So convenient, and with Camryn’s help with my luggage, so easy! I had no trouble with security, and am now 10 hours into my 12-1/2 hour flight to LA. From there, I’ll have another flight to DC, where I’ll crash for the night at the Lindsay’s. Then, one Megabus ride and I’ll finally be home with my guys. Cannot wait!!!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


In Wollongong:

At Tops Conference Center...

In Sydney...

In the Royal Botanical Gardens;

A few photos

Leaving Dulles on Monday, November 27.

Only a short walk from our first hotel...the beach in Wollongong.

With my friend Sue at Tops Conference Center in Stanwell Tops.

The three Americans on work crew.

Enjoying the beauty of Stanwell Tops

Leaving our cottage in Darlinghurst on Tuesday morning, December 5...

...started at Harbor Bridge...

...then on to the Sydney Opera House.

A view of the bridge and opera house from our ferry ride on the harbor.


Aussie Observations

After a full day of sightseeing, we returned to our cottage at 8pm and will likely be asleep before 10. Hopefully I’ll conclude this post before my eyes fade. To start, I wanted to mention a few of the lovely things about this country that I’ve enjoyed:

The trees. They are spectacular...on the coast, in this city. Huge gum trees with their smooth white trunks; jacaranda trees bursting with purple blooms; banksia trees with red bottle brush-type flowers and “cones” (notnquite like pine cones); and so many others I’ve never seen before. The landscape along the coast is very lush with flowers, shrubs, and these gorgeous trees.

The food. In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Aussies enjoy tea mid morning and mid afternoon, which includes tea and some type of pastry or cake. Something else unique (not something I liked) was that they serve a side dish with breakfast that we would never consider adding to our breakfast menu, including baked beans or spaghetti. I saw one lady eating her baco, eggs, and toast with a hearty portion of spaghetti (in a tomato sauce) poured right atop her scrambled eggs.

The pace. Australians overall have seemed very laid back. No one is pushy in the train stations, they are courteous on the sidewalks, and they allow you to linger over meals however long you like. The trains feature “quiet carriages” where talking is not allowed. An introvert thought of this brilliant idea, and it made the train travel so pleasant.

Speaking of train travel...the public transportation. The rail system is easy to
navigate, and the trains are super clean! I know Seth and Reed will argue since they think nothing could ever beat the rail system in Switzerland; however, I think Australia does it. Trains are double decker, have quiet carriages, and are extremely clean. In fact, all of Australia (that I’ve seen) is very clean! Other than trains, there are buses and ferries that one can take around the city, countryside, and harbor.

Today, after breakfast at a charming cafe, we began at Harbor Bridge, and the. We walked to the iconic Opera House. Next, we took a train ride through the Royal Botanical Gardens. Finally, we took the ferry to Manley Beach, located six miles away from Downtown Sydney. There we ate dinner and did.a bit of shopping.

It was a great day exploring this city. Tomorrow we plan to go to Bondi Beach...hoping for weather as beautiful as it was today!

Monday, December 4, 2017


After four amazing days, Captivating ended at noon today. While the first two days at Stanwell Tops were warm and humid, rain on Saturday evening brought in cooler temperatures. This morning was downright chilly!

We packed up and said our goodbyes to the Ransomed Heart team and work crew, and then we got a ride to the train station in Stanwell Park. From there we caught the train to Central Station in Sydney. Then a short ride to Museum Station. It was a fifteen minute walk from there to our AirBNB for the next four nights.

We are staying a cute place in the Darlinghurst community. It’s in the city, with shops and restaurants within walking distance. After throwing a load of laundry in, we crashed and enjoyed badly needed naps. Tonight we walked to a pub and lucked into the $12 steak dinner special.

Now we are bad in our cottage for the night, and likely we will be asleep by 10pm. Ha! As I typed that, a circuit blew and lights went out. Looks like we will be turning in early!

Saturday, December 2, 2017


It is day 4 in Australia, and my roommates and I have turned in for the night. Rightly’s 10:41pm. What time is it there? On Thursday evening our friends from Ransomed Heart picked up in Wollongong and gave us a ride to the retreat event center in Stanwell Tops. We were grateful that we didn’t have to navigate the trains again with our luggage!

The work crew gathered that night. There are only three of us from America on work crew (one from TX, one from DC, and me). The others are from Australia. A few of them have attended a Captivating retreat in Colorado, but for many, this is their first experience. On Friday we spent the morning setting up camp before the attendees arrived—registration, resources, and the worship room primarily.

The retreat center is lovely—on a hillside overlooking the ocean. It is incredibly lush with plants I’ve never seen and big, beautiful gum trees. There are also so many birds! I found a quiet place to watch the sun rise over the ocean on Friday morning. It rises around 5:27, and I haven’t missed one in Australia yet.

Attendees arrived in the afternoon on Friday, and they were friendly, excited, and a joy to chat with. From the first worship song, it was clear that they were eager to be here and get started.

It is summer here, so it is a stark contrast to home temperatures. It’s warm and humid. Few rooms are air conditioned, so we sleep with our will does open and thankfully someone brought a fan. An afternoon rain storm today cooled it off some too.

Tomorrow is the second full day of the retreat, so I’ll say goodbye for now and get some sleep. Sunrise comes early!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Down Under

After an 11 hour bus ride, a six hour plane ride to Los Angeles, and a 15 hour plane ride to Sydney, we arrived in Australia yesterday at 8:45 AM. This was 4:45 PM on Tuesday Knoxville time. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that Tim and the boys are back a day compared to where I am. I just finished lunch, and they just finished dinner and are preparing for bedtime.

By far the worst part of the travel was my bus ride from Knoxville to Washington DC. It never crossed my mind that it was Thanksgiving weekend when I booked my ticket, so the bus was packed! What should have been a nine hour trip took 11 hours. Boy, was I glad to reach the Lindsay’s house!

I was nervous about the long flight to Sydney. We lucked up and had an empty seat between us, so we could take turns stretching out. In the end, we both got some sleep and arrived feeling pretty rested.

We found the train station in the airport and bought tickets to take us to Stanwell Park, the station nearest the retreat center. However, wedon’t check into there until tomorrow, so we had to navigate the trains to end up at our hotel. After a few hours of learning to rail system, we did end up near ourhotel, deposited our bags, and went to the ocean, located just a few blocks away. It was absolutely stunning and a beautiful, sunny day. We are staying in Wollongong, which is a city of 290,000. It has a very relaxed vibe.

After a cold swim, we went back to the hotel and took our showers before dinner. We ended up in the room by seven and tried to stay awake until nine. Jet lag got the best of us, and we fell asleep by 8 PM. We got a great night’s sleep and woke up in time to see the sunrise over the ocean.

Today, which is Thursday, we have enjoyed a couple of local cafés for meals and some shopping time before we head to the retreat center tonight. It is the beginning of summer here, so it is very warm and the weather is perfect. Tomorrow we will work with the work crew and Ransomed Heart staff to set up for the retreat, and attendees will begin to arrive in the afternoon.

It’s still surreal that I’m sitting here in Australia typing this when it wasn’t even on my radar two months ago!!! What a gift!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Day 16 - Home

I am writing this at 5am (or is it 11am?) from my bed. My own bed. My familiar, comfy, welcome bed. Our last day in Europe began at 5:45am on Friday morning as we rose after a very sleepless night in Zurich. I don't know if the Swiss always love the nightlife as they did on that particular Thursday night, or if they were unusually rowdy because it has been a holiday (Corpus Christi day), but the party at the bar and spilling onto the street below our apartment went on until 3am at least.

The boys, however, rose without (much) complaint and were reDy to leave for the airport by 6:30. Our Uber driver was there in a flash and quickly delivered us to Zurich's airport. Security began at the ticket counter as agents asked us a series of probing questions (Where have you been? Where did you stay? What did you see while you were in England? Paris? Etc.). This quickly turned surreal as Reed has difficulty understanding the agent's questions because of her accent, and he would turn to us before answering or ask, "What?" Tim and I thought, "Well, here we go...we are going to be detained for sure!" Luckily we were not and now have a story to give Reed a hard time about for years to come.

Our flight from Zurich to JFK was 8 hours 30 minutes, and after we went through Customs and retrieved our luggage, we had to change airports to LaGuardia. Our second Uber ride of the day was less positive, with a driver who didn't want to honor the agreed upon price and threatened to turn around and take us back to JFK. Finally he and Tim agreed on the price, and he delivered us to LaGuardia after some pretty white-knuckle driving. Frustrating for sure, but we were just thankful to be safely one step closer to come.

Unfortunately now we had a long layover and then a flight delay! We boarded our flight to Knoxville after 22 hours of wake time, and landed after a full 24 hours with very little sleep. My parents were a welcome sight, as they met us at the airport with our car to take us home! We were all in such a stupor as we stumbled across the threshold of home, we hurriedly said our good nights.

I look out my bedroom window at the familiar backyard scene that I love so much, and I cannot believe our epic trip is over. I am so grateful--for the prayers of so many who covered our trip each and every day, for the safety we experienced, for the accommodations that were ideal (even over a noisy bar), for the kindness of the strangers we met, for the good weather, for excellent public transportation, for good health, for the beauty and history we saw, for the adventure we experienced, for the food we enjoyed, for so much more...

Most of all, I am beyond thankful for these three people I shared the last 16 days with!!! Traveling together can challenge you, stretch you, push you, and wear on you, but it also grows you and binds you together in such a beautiful way. I am so proud of the boys--for their attitudes, their eagerness, and their engagement. And for Tim--our navigator who, with his able assistant Reed, steered us safely and successfully every step of the way. This was, indeed, the trip of a lifetime, but not our last. Maybe after a few more hours sleep, I can start dreaming of the next! 😉

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Day 15 - Hot

I wish I could think of a better title for this entry, but I am just too dang hot. I'm lying on top of the bed in our apartment in Zurich, freshly showered, with all of the windows open and listening to the blessed rain that began falling 20 minutes ago. Hopefully it will cool us off so we can sleep well tonight. We have a long day of travel ahead tomorrow.

This morning we woke to cool mountain air wafting in our open windows at Chalet Fontana in Murren. After our final breakfast and last-minute packing, we said goodbye to our host Denise and made our way to the station for our final gondola ride of the trip (yahoo!). We then caught a train to Interlaken Ost, where we would switch to another train to take us to Lucerne. Interlaken is absolutely stunning with the emerald waters of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. If our travels ever bring us back to Switzerland, we might have to split our time between Murren and Interlaken.

We didn't have time to explore, but we switched trains quickly and made our way to Lucerne. Here we ate lunch beside the famous Chapel Bridge and then walked to see the Lion of Lucerne monument. The first rain of the day caught us then, so we quickly made our way back to the river, where we took a moment to get a gelato – our first of the trip! Then we caught the 4:10 train to Zürich. From the train station it was a 15 minute walk to our apartment for the night.

None of our lodgings for the trip have had air-conditioning; however, the heat of Zurich got to us after being in the high, cool mountain air since Monday. Then, add to that our dinner tonight at Zenghauskeller, a restaurant housed in a former 15th-century armory (crowded and certainly un-air conditioned), and we were dripping with sweat by the end of our meal. Even Reed was on the verge of collapse. We stopped by a grocery for drinks on the 20-minute walk home, and I hung out by the frozen foods!

We have a very nice apartment for our last night in Europe, but it sits two floors up from a bar. Zurich clearly has an avid nightlife (we passed restaurants and bars spilling over with people on our walk home tonight), so we will be listening to the chatter from the street below late into the night I would guess. That's similar to our time in Paris. It's fun to listen though because of the language difference...there's no forgetting that we are in a different land.

We leave at 6:30am for the airport, and after flying home through New York City (both JFK and LaGuardia), we will finally be home tomorrow night! I know two boys who are eager for their own beds, wi-fi, air conditioning, and most of all, their dog. Their mom and dad are too!

(Our street in Zurich, taken from the little balcony off our bedroom.) 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Day 14 - Wanderweg

This morning we woke to rain, but by the time we finished breakfast and took showers, the rain had lifted. This was perfect because we planned to hike down to Gimmelwald to catch the gondola to Stechelberg. From there we would walk to Trummelbach Falls. Before setting off, the boys popped over to the knife store next door for some "necessary" purchases.

When I say "hike" I should confess it was a one-lane paved road that meandered down to the valley. The 45-minute walk took us past farms and pastures and had amazing views (as everywhere here does).  We caught the gondola, which saved us some steps, and from there set off on foot for the falls. It was another 45-minute walk, but who really cares when it is so beautiful.

When we arrived at Trummelbach Falls, we got onto a lift with other tourists that took us into the mountain. The Falls are a series of 10 glacier waterfalls inside the mountain. One can only see them by walking through a series of tunnels, up stairs (lots of them), and across platforms. It's incredible. The temperature plummets inside the mountain and the roar of the Falls thunders. The water for the Falls comes from meltwater from either snow or glaciers around the Jungfrau, Eiger, and Monch peaks, and there's is a lot of it!

After leaving the Falls, we walked an hour through the Lauterbrunnen Valley, known as the "valley of 72 waterfalls" and also the region that Tolkien hiked in 1911 and which inspired him as he wrote The Hobbit and LOTR. If you know this, you can spot Rivendale, the Misty Mountains, and even imagine the Shire. Of course you know we love that Tolkien himself walked similar paths to the ones we walked today.

We stopped for an early dinner in Lauterbrunnen, and we chose two traditional Swiss dishes: cheese fondue and rosti. From Lauterbrunnen we caught the gondola back to Murren (enough "wanderweg"! Translation: hiking trail....), and as we walked home from the station, the rain started to fall. Perfect timing!

Tonight will be spent packing, eating Swiss chocolate, and turning in early. Tomorrow we leave for Zurich and our Friday flight home, with a stopover for some sightseeing in Lucerne. Reed is giving an indication that it might not be so easy to get him out of here tomorrow. Come to think of it, Tim and Seth might be a problem too!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Day 13 - Jungfrau

We woke to a beautiful clear sky, which meant Operation Jungfrau was a-go. Denise prepares breakfast for the chalet guests, served family style, so after a nice meal and enjoyable conversation with the other guests, we were off! Trains leave Murren at :18 and :58 past the hour, so we boarded a train at 8:58 that took us down where we caught the dreaded gondola to descend some more. Then we boarded a different train to begin our ascent to the Jungfrau. At 11,333 feet, it's quite a climb that  required two more different trains and two+ hours travel time.

It's quite a shock to emerge to the blinding brightness and crisp cold air. The visitors center is arranged very neatly with clear directions leading the many tourists to the observation platform, a small history exhibit, the ice castle, an outdoor viewing area of the glacier, the gift shop (of course!), and the restaurant. 

The Ice Palace was something else, with floors, walls, ceiling, and sculptures completely of ice. We scooted our feet through this area carefully. We don't want any injuries this close to the end of our trip! 


After all of this, we made our way to the area marked "Snow Fun," where visitors can ski, snowboard, tube, and sled. Tim and the boys enjoyed both the tubing and sledding, and they quickly worked up a sweat. It was surprisingly warm out there!

After leaving the Jungfrau we had to make the two hour trek back to Murren. This return trip seemed to  take a lot longer as we were all very tired. On the way back to the chalet we stopped by an Asian restaurant to get carry out ( yes, even in this Swiss village we can get take out!) We ate in our pajamas and played a game of Harry Potter trivia pursuit. Now we are all tucked in and looking forward to a relaxing day tomorrow.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Day 12 - Getting to the top of Europe

We have reached the final destination for our trip: Switzerland! Specifically Murren, Switzerland. Both of the boys have been here and greatly desired to bring us. Seth was here in 2013, and Reed was here last summer. From here one can travel to the Jungfrau, the "Top of Europe."

To get here, it requires travel on three separate trains and a cable car. (I could have done without the cable car!🤑) Our trains were on a tight schedule, so thankfully they were precisely on time and we made our connections.

We are staying at the same chalet where the boys stayed, and the manager, Denise, greeted us and gave us our keys. There's another American family staying here as well as a woman from South Africa. The chalet has very low thresholds, so Seth looks a bit like Gandalf visiting a Hobbit hole.

For dinner we hopped across the street to the Stager Stubli, where the boys enjoyed horse steak when they were here before. The chef was kind enough to make it for them (and Tim) tonight even though it wasn't on the menu. I had the chicken, which was delicious, and I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything.

We hope to go to the Jungfrau on one of our two mornings here, but it depends on the weather. Luckily Denise said tomorrow looks good, so we will try to catch a train in the morning and head to the "top of Europe."

The French countryside, as seen by train.

The cable car...I'm only smiling because we haven't started moving yet!

Almost there! From the Murren 
 train station to the chalet on foot.